You can create a special mood for your Thanksgiving table that shows off your vintage style and sets the scene for welcoming family and friends.
Falling between Halloween and Christmas, two holidays that have showier celebrations, Thanksgiving can get overlooked when it comes to decorating.
Since the Thanksgiving table is typically the focal point for family and friends, creating an inviting setting is an easy way you can showcase your best collectibles and your personal style in how you present them in your table decorations.
Tom Johnson, president and CEO of Ruby Lane, offers some great ideas and simple tips for creating a Thanksgiving table with vintage flair.
At the home he shares with his husband, Denny, Johnson says that all of the turkeys and other vintage decorations come out every year and are a mix of items he has purchased on Ruby Lane over the years and family heirlooms that have been passed down.
“Denny’s grandmother would pull out her vintage pheasants just for Thanksgiving and it was the opportunity for all to see. My motto is use it or lose it! I’m a huge proponent of using all your vintage and antique treasures for all to enjoy, instead of keeping them tucked away. If we attend a Thanksgiving gathering, we usually present the host with a few vintage turkeys or pilgrim Gurley candles — always a fun surprise,” Johnson says.
When it comes to decorating your table, Johnson offers three top tips: Don’t overthink it, focus on the colors of the season, and start with the tablecloth.
“Color is most important. Find a great tablecloth or fabric for the table first, bring in some found objects from around the house, small gourds and pumpkins from the grocery store, even the yard for leaves, and then go raid your holiday bin or cabinet for your treasures to place around the table in small groups or just all over. If you want to really impress, place some sturdy books or small boxes under the tablecloth to give some different heights to the table, from the center out. That always wows the guests,” he says.
If you want to create a more formal setting, Johnson says that will take a bit more planning, as the base setting cannot be quite as whimsical.
“Placing your vintage treasures in a more orderly fashion, like perhaps above each dinner plate, or around a flower arrangement, works best. Of course this is when you polish up and bring out your best antique and vintage silver and glassware pieces to show off. Do not miss the opportunity to use them,” he says.
If you don’t have any vintage table items to begin with, Johnson says that it’s easiest to start with some small key pieces.
“Usually storage space is always an issue, so start with small themed vintage items, such as salt and pepper shakers in forms of turkeys, pilgrims, pumpkins or acorns, turkey and pheasant figurines, themed Gurley candles, and then some small vintage bowls or vases that are rich in fall colors of orange, browns, yellows and reds,” he suggests.
Don’t be afraid of color, and particularly don’t be afraid of red and think of it only as a Christmas color. If you collect cranberry glass or ruby red pieces, they can add a great pop of color to your table. If you have a vintage pitcher in red or some other vivid color, for instance, add it to the table filled with a beverage or even flowers.
“Colorful fall colors in glass are so fun and eye-popping — be it candle holders, small flower vases, candy dishes, or even just dessert plates. Also 1950s pottery makers Franciscan, Metlox, and Vernon Kilns all have dinnerware with fun fall colors and shapes, and Roseville has great vases,” Johnson says.
If your vintage glasses are crystal, you can take his lead and add a few fresh cranberries to white wine, water or any other clear beverage for little splashes of color.
There are ways you can incorporate even non-traditional antiques and collectibles on your Thanksgiving table and home decor. If you collect apothecary jars, for instance, consider filling them with homemade treats and add them to a table with the appetizers. If you collect glass insulators, you could create a quick and easy centerpiece for the table or a mantel by placing tea light candles in a few and adding some kind of fall foliage around them. Antique bottles can hold a few flowers or even sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or other herbs. A pretty Depression glass cake plate can display your pumpkin pie.
“Repurposing vintage items is always a great idea. If you’re a toy/doll collector, cowboy and Indian-type toys and dolls make a great setting. If you’re a Barbie person, throw some fall outfits on Barbie and Ken and place them around the table. Or scatter some Thanksgiving-themed postcards around your table — they always have wonderful, unique designs. Colorful vintage toy trucks can be filled with lots of vintage finds for a fun display,” says Johnson.
If you have the time, don’t overlook the charm of making your own simple decorations or touches for the table, either, such as placecards.
“Denny’s always creating new illustrations every year, and also in smaller format for name cards, thank you cards, and for holiday and birthday cards that everyone enjoys receiving,” Johnson says.
Once Johnson has his table set, the food and libations are next.
“For Thanksgiving day, we enjoy turkey with all the fixings. Cava or Prosecco in clear glasses with cranberries is always a hit. Butternut squash in our vintage pumpkin bowls is a sure crowd pleaser,” he says. One of his family’s must-have recipes is his Grandmother’s cake.
“Ah, the famous cranberry cake passed down from my Grandmother, with the special oh-so-good sauce (basically butter and sugar) to die for. I always remember as a kid waiting for that dessert, and then sneaking around to get a taste of more sauce. Then there’s the year the cranberry cake sauce was mistaken for the gravy — that created quite the laugh.”
In addition to filling your vintage bowls and plates with mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and other traditional foods typical at Thanksgiving, consider adding something non-traditional that is part of your heritage.
“My family’s heritage is Norwegian, so we always serve Lefse which is a real treat — basically a soft very thin potato flatbread. My Dad would smother it in butter and sugar, where I just prefer it plain. We now order it every year as a special treat,” Johnson says.
As he prepares for the holiday this year, Johnson says that he is thankful for so many things.
“For sure Ruby Lane over the past 20 years. I’m so thankful for all who make it a success, from all the wonderful dealers I’ve met along the way, to the best, dedicated, hardworking team I could ever imagine, and to our buyers,” Johnson says. “Mostly I’m thankful for my loving husband, family and friends, who without them, life would just not be fulfilling.”